I’ve avoided tourist destinations consistently during my travels. There’s something about things feeling too familiar, too packaged that runs counter to the experiences I seek. It’s not pyramids or well-known landmarks that have beckoned me from my life in New York, but rather the quiet intimacy of meeting a stranger in a town plaza or being invited into a home for a cup of coffee.
One afternoon in my early 20’s I randomly jumped onto a bus heading out of a small town in Veracruz, Mexico, where I happened to be spending a couple of nights. After an hour or so of looking out the window as we drove along a dusty road, I noticed a man sitting in front of a humble, cylindrically-shaped, one-room home. It had an opening only 4 feet in hight for a door, a thatched roof, rough-hewn wooden slabs for walls, and, as I remember, split coconut shells hanging from strings in the windows for privacy. I had never seen anything quite like it, and to this day am uncertain if it was traditional to the region or simply a whimsical creation.
Intrigued, I jumped off the bus and retraced the empty road until I was in front of the dwelling. The man, perhaps 60 and clothed in a worn shirt and jeans, cowboy hat and huarache sandals, laughed upon seeing my interest in his home and invited me inside where his wife stood on the dirt floor making tortillas by hand and cooking them over a fire. After 20 minutes or so of standard conversation (Where are you from? What foods do you like? How many siblings do you have? etc. ), he looked up at me with a warm smile and said, “I know why you’re here. You’re wondering about my life, the way people in this area spend time, what our experience on earth is like. You want to know what we’re thinking, feeling… Well, we’re thinking and feeling the same things as you. We’re wondering why we’re here, what we should be doing, and what will happen once we cross over.” I responded with a nod, and a comfortable quiet filled the room.
Not wanting to dilute the experience of our shared sense of humanity, I don’t think I even took my camera out of its bag. So here are three images of other places that represent the sort of environments I’ve been drawn to for my photographs. One is in Argentina, the next Ethiopia and finally Guyana. I liked all three places very much, but connections like the one in Veracruz are few and far between.